Poetic Thoughts

Well, not precisely poetic, I suppose. They are more like “thoughts on poetry,” on Weekly Poem #4, “Belial,” by Kevin Max Smith.

“Belial” jumped out at me, reaching straight from the page in At the Foot of Heaven and grabbing me by the brain the moment I saw it. This is largely because it is in BLOCK LETTERS and they overlap with one another. Thus it tantalised me, drew me in.

I was caught by it upon reading the thing by its stark reality. A reality I recognised all-too-well. Me. Having been maltreated in various rhyming pairs — YOU PIN, STICK, PICK, CHOKE, POKE, WHIP, TRIP, SEIZE, SQUEEZE ME — the narrator of the poem invites his tormentor in when the tormentor comes by for tea. And he knows this won’t be the world’s most pleasant tea party. They won’t discuss books or films or (in the case of Kevin Max) ’80s music. There will be no crumpets. There will be no virtue. Instead, he will be assaulted by this fellow, presumably Belial himself, caught by pride, smiles, and left to bleed.

This is just the cycle of temptation and sin, is it not? To quote Eric Champion, “In battle between my soul and my flesh, my flesh always wins.” We are caught in Romans 7:18-20:

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (NIV)

In order avoid having Belial over for his bloody tea party, we are enjoined by the Scriptures and the Fathers to set our minds on things above (Col 3:2), to think upon “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy” (Phil 4:8, NIV). St. Anthony of the Desert, one of my heroes, exhorts us:

Wherever you go, always have God before your eyes; whatever you do have [before you] the testimony of the holy Scriptures.

Indeed, my friends, who is Belial that we should let him in if he comes knocking at our door? Belial is mentioned in 2 Corinthians, “What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?” (NIV), during the discussion of not being unequally yoked. According to the New Bible Dictionary, Belial’s Hebrew etymology renders the name as “Worthlessness”, or “the Engulfer” (by a different route). In the New Testament, the name refers to Satan. Our old friend the OED Online defines Belial:

The spirit of evil personified; used from early times as a name for the Devil or one of the fiends, and by Milton as the name of one of the fallen angels.

Belial is not the sort of fellow you want to have an active role in your life. Indeed, as the BCP urges at the poem’s close, he is best avoided. This is the Devil, after all, who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (NIV)

Let us therefore sing God’s praises and seek to do good and to pray and to search the Scriptures. By so doing, methinks we’ll get the better of Belial and open the door to him far less frequently.

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